The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 8

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Longing.

Sometimes the surest argument for the existence of something is to see the existence of its opposite, the twisted and distorted version. Suffering the discomfort of wearing poorly made shoes heightens our desire for well-fitting, high quality footwear. Ownership of a lemon of a car reminds us painfully that not all vehicles are equal. Obsessions and addictions remind us that healthy appetites can become deformed and contorted until they destroy us. Some enterprises derive their profit by deliberately twisting wholesome longings to create in their clients insatiable desires. If we are honest, we’ll recognize the dark side of desire—that when desire is corrupted it begins to rule us.

We all have desires. But by untwisting the distortion of consumer-mentality-gone-wild cravings, we can imagine that the capacity to desire in its purest form is something God gives us for our good. There are clues. Have you ever sensed a longing arrive like a mist and then disappear as suddenly, hinting of something good—really good—that you failed to fully grasp or realize? Sometimes it rides on the heels of a glance at a majestic mountain, or in the smell of spring, or in the sound of a child’s voice. Many have experienced it.

“We are homesick most,” muses author Carson McCullers, “for the places we have never known”;

“It is a longing for home,” adds poet and Nobel Prizewinner Hermann Hesse;

The author of Hebrews 11 recognizes this phenomenon in each of the women and men of faith who opened their hearts, minds and ears to the call of God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died,” narrates the first century author. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

God is not ashamed to be called their God. What an amazing thought. A longing for something and Someone much bigger than ourselves is exactly what God created us to pursue. That longing is God calling to each of us, “Come!” King Solomon once mused that God has “set eternity in (our) hearts;” it delights God when He sees people track that heart-deep longing to its supernatural end—eternity. It is obedience to God’s most primal call in its most essential form.

Obeying this call of God, this desire to be brought into community with Him, is not only delightful to Him, it is essential to our completeness as human beings. All these people were still living by faith when they died, narrates Hebrews. They died. The great and final disquiet that each of us must face is our own personal, physical death—we cannot escape it. We must face it from one of three perspectives: We can devise a story to camouflage the problem of death; we can own the problem of death, yet see no solution; or we can admit the problem of death and accept God’s solution.

The first perspective, says D.H. Lawrence, is a lie, “…which brings us to the real dilemma of man in his adventure with consciousness. He is a liar. Man is a liar unto himself.” Os Guinness adds “the folly of the modern mind is to make the precision of scientific thinking the model for all human thinking, so as to forget the bias, self-interest and moral defect at the heart of all thinking.” We tell ourselves the story that after death we will cease to exist, or reincarnate as a greater or lesser being, or become part of the vast ocean of divinity, or something like that—anything to still our restlessness.

The second perspective, although rarely held, leads to insanity. “God is dead,’ moaned Friedrich Nietzsche. “God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves…?’ Nietzsche spent the final 11 years of his life in a state of mental insanity—the only possible outcome for the problem of considering an existence devoid of God and morality.

The third perspective is to trust God and the revelation of His Word implicitly—to trust that God created us as His image-bearers; to believe the revelation that we all have hearts bent in rebellion against Him; to believe that our rebellion leads us to become godless, Hell-bent and Hell-bound; to trust that Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and unique resurrection is our only hope to regain community with God and a solution to our dis-ease with death and longing for eternity. This perspective alone relieves us from the restlessness of the death dilemma. This is the outcome of listening to God’s call. It gives us rest. The list of men and women of faith is a list of many who listened, longed, died, and are with God.

“You have made us for Yourself,” prays St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 7

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Is not Self-seeking.

Nothing is more natural to us than to look out for ourselves. We do it all the time, and sometimes it is even good for us. We prepare our meals keeping our fingers away from the sharp edge of the knife; we look both ways before crossing the street; we don warm clothes in winter and sunblock in summer. But paradoxically, nothing is more of an obstacle, barrier, and impediment to love than looking out for ourselves.

The writer of I Corinthians 13 has been scrutinizing the notion of love. He has been examining, defining, and virtually dissecting every facet of love for those who care to listen. The ancient text was written specifically to new believers in the Greek city of Corinth (c. A.D. 56), but also to “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” He wants people to understand some hard lessons about love.

He has started by explaining that love is patient and kind, that it does not envy or boast, and that it is not proud or rude. Those were the kindergarten and elementary lessons on love. We need to work on those, but they are child’s play compared to what’s coming. Now the Apostle Paul propels us into graduate-level course work. Enough of the easy stuff; it’s time, he seems to suggest, to get down to the real labour of love—the nitty-gritty, ‘get your hands dirty or get out of the garden’ kind of love.

“Love…” Paul explains, “is not self-seeking.”

Adjectives for self-seeking are: self-esteeming, self-interested, self-important, self-serving, self-centred, self-absorbed, and self-obsessed. Read that list again slowly, thoughtfully and carefully. There are other adjectives that go even further, descriptors like egotistical and narcissistic—pathologic extremes of self-centredness—illustrating how destructive the tendency in us can become. But for now, let’s choose from the ‘self’ list one adjective that describes, at least to some degree, our own experience. Let’s put it under the microscope and see what the fuss is all about.

Paul warn us against self-seeking behaviours because in the long run, when we put self-interest ahead of others-interest and ultimately God-interest, we destroy ourselves. Our self was not made to bear the weight of our own inward focus. God created us to find our greatest fulfillment by centering ourselves on Him first, on others second, and on ourselves last. Reversing that order is counter-productive to our need for love. So why do we do it?

We do it because we fall for the world’s oldest lie. The deception is: “The only way to truly be happy is to look out for myself.” We won’t go into where that lie originates; that’s a story for another day. Self-seeking motives hide deep in the recesses of our souls, come imbedded in our very DNA, and cause at least three injuries to us.

Firstly, they are isolating. When we are making decisions based on how to ensure outcomes that benefit us, they are bound to segregate us from others—especially the ones who suffer from our benefitting. When we become preoccupied with our own issues (our external appearance, our social media standing, our finances, our passions, and even our sufferings and experiences as victims) we fail to concern ourselves with others. We become care-less in looking out for the weak, the hurting and the love-needy. We become self-determining islands of isolation, focused only on our self. And selfishness ultimately makes us unlovable, further reinforcing that isolation.

Secondly, self-seeking motives are disillusioning. The lie sets us up to believe that the more we attend to ourselves the better things will be for us in the long run. We begin making choices out of fear for our own happiness, but find happiness an elusive thing to grasp. The older we get, the more we realize the labours of our lives ending much differently than we had planned. The disillusionment that follows this disappointment is often nothing less than overwhelming. Look at any example from the world’s highest pedestals of success and we see the carnage of lives crushed with disillusionment.

And thirdly, the inner drive for self is, in the end, self-destructive. The lack of love for others makes us not greater ourselves, but lesser. Our souls shrivel; our thoughts become disordered; our words take on twisted deceptions; we lose our hold on truth and reality and our actions become self-limiting. The goal of creating ourselves into masterpieces results in a corrupted shell of the glorious individual into which God envisioned making us.

What is the solution? In a word, Jesus. Jesus taught, “whoever finds his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It’s a bold statement. It’s an impossible task. But here’s the miracle: Jesus came down to earth to live a life of selfless servanthood toward His heavenly Father and to all of humanity—to you and me. He repelled all temptations of self-interest and sacrificed His very life at the call of the Father to deliver us. And He offers His own Spirit to empower us to live for Him and to be like Him. That’s the breath-taking solution, designed and modeled by Love Himself. Here’s our opportunity. Each day He awaits our invitation to begin or continue the process of learning to love.

WHO IS JESUS? #11

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Knower of the Father.

Some things can be separated and still maintain their unique characteristics: a deflated balloon is still a balloon—even without air in it; separate bees from flowers and they will still be bees and flowers, although eventually both will die without the other. But some things cannot be separated and maintain their coherence: split the nucleus of an atom and see what happens.

In a similar way, everything Jesus claims about Himself is inextricably tied to God the Father. Jesus’ glory is tied to the Father’s glory; Jesus’ honouring of the Father is in balance with the Father’s honouring of Jesus; even the sovereignty of Jesus is inseparable from the sovereignty of the Father. So it’s no surprise that in this passage of John’s gospel (8:12-59) Jesus references the Father twenty-eight times. In a word, He is obsessed with Him. The centrality of the importance of the Father to the Son’s identity is summed up in the phrase Jesus now proclaims, “I know him.”

On the surface, to say we know someone is simple enough. We use it quite commonly in day-to-day life referring to family members, friends and even acquaintances. At some point, though, we recognize we can’t honestly apply the phrase to a relationship unless there is a certain level of mutual knowing involved. We may know about our country’s Prime Minister, or its President, or about other famous and infamous people, but we can’t sincerely say we know them unless we have connected at some level of intimacy.

Jesus makes this distinction in His discussion with the sanctimonious Jewish ruling class that have been challenging Him. He highlights the uniqueness of His claim to know the Father against the sham of their claims.

“Though you do not know him, I know him,” Jesus asserts. “If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word.” Sharp contrast. Jesus does not mince His words when He wants to make an important point. He is saying, ‘you lie when you say you know the Father; I would be lying if I said I didn’t.’

The more we think about that claim, the more fantastic we realize it to be. Who can truly know God? Eight centuries earlier, Isaiah, God’s hand-picked prophet, had quoted God saying, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9); and a little later a prophet named Jeremiah quoted God as saying He is not impressed by human power, “but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me…” (Jeremiah 9:24a). The implication is that this lofty goal of knowing God can never be fully achieved by created beings.

So a claim to know—to fully and completely know— the Father is a claim of something at the level of equality with Him. It is a claim of cognitive intimacy that puts Jesus in a unique relationship and on par with the Father. But then Jesus is not a created being as we are; He is the “only begotten”, the “one and only” Son of the Father (John 3:16). His essence is eternally and inextricably bound up in the essence of the Father. We cannot fully know what that means—we have nothing in our experience that corresponds to that kind of knowing of God. At least, not yet.

Fortunately for those who choose to follow Jesus, to accept His offer of relationship, something amazing happens; we are brought into an intimacy with God that is foundationally one of mutual knowing. Jesus explains to His disciples (and by implication, to all throughout history who have looked to Him), “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). So the Apostle Paul extrapolates this idea by saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). The author of Hebrews explains that this new thing—this new kind of knowing of God—was in the mind of God to produce in humanity when He conceived of us. It takes time, and it takes the unsurpassed power of God to create the right conditions for it to happen, but without a doubt it is happening.

“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts,” Jeremiah quotes God saying. “I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:10-12).

Amazing news. Our best response to this news is to commit every day to spending increasing time with Jesus; we can read His Word, incorporating what we learn about Him into our lives; we can commit portions of that Word to memory, recalling them in times of need; and we can converse with Him—a process we call prayer. That is our part now in the glorious adventure we will spend eternity exploring—that of knowing God. There will be more when we finally see Him face to face. For now, know and be known.

(Photo Credit: [[File:NNSA-NSO-504.jpg|NNSA-NSO-504]]

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 16

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Disintegrating the Big Lie

Adolf Hitler and his Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels are credited with exploring and defining the “Big Lie”—a propaganda tool for harnessing public support of Nazi Germany’s war effort. The Big Lie said, “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” By the time World War II ended sixty million people—3% of the 1940 world population—had died as a direct result of that tool. But don’t be deceived into thinking that was the first or even the last time the Big Lie has been used.

“Be careful,” Jesus warned His disciples. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). This wasn’t about bread. It wasn’t about diet, culture or even religion. It was a warning about deceptive power; it was a caution about a sham, a strategy as old as earth itself of misleading hapless individuals into bondage. Jesus used the term yeast as a metaphor for the Big Lie, to help people like us understand what we are up against—something that spreads insidiously and overtakes everything it touches.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were Jewish sects that sought to rule the people through a well-developed religion-masked dictatorship. They used their form of the Big Lie to build lives of power for themselves at the expense of others.

There are other forms of the Lie: life is a Clockwork Universe set in motion by a benevolent force (Deism); life is defined by the visible and the reasonable (Naturalism); life is realizing oneself as the centre of the universe (New Age spirituality); and life is not about truth but about finding meaning (Postmodernism).

The Big Lie is what destroys the paradise of communion between each of us and our Creator by telling us we can be fulfilled without Him. The Big Lie is what keeps each of us in a bondage that wrecks our relationships, hinders our peace of mind, corrupts good intentions, and cripples our ability to be in right relationship with God.

But Jesus had come to earth for one express purpose: to disintegrate the Big Lie. Taking His disciples aside Jesus asked them two questions: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say I am?” To the first question they gave a list of responses they had heard people surmising Jesus’ identity to be—essentially a good man, even a prophet, a charismatic leader with a charismatic message. To the second question came one bold response from the plucky but sometimes impetuous disciple Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In other words, You are God in the flesh; You are the One promised who would destroy the Big Lie and its attending curse upon humanity.

“Blessed are you (!)” Jesus rejoices upon hearing Peter’s answer. The timeless truth of Peter’s confession—a truth more solid than any weapon—sent a fatal blow to the foundations of the Big Lie. “(T)his was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” explained Jesus “…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:17,18).

Truth—solid, unflinching, rational, God-indwelling truth—is the ultimate victor. The Big Lie is on the way out. Its days are numbered. It has been measured by the One who knows the beginning from the end, and it has been found wanting. Jesus, God incarnate, the way, the truth and the life created us for so much more than lies.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy”—this is what the Big Lie does to us; let’s not be deceived. Lies can mask themselves to appear as we want them to, but they ultimately only destroy us. “I have come,” continues Jesus, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That is the purpose of truth, to give us more life than we could conceivably imagine.

Today, we are faced with this day’s challenge: to remain under the deadly influence of the Big Lie in all its chameleon-like expressions, or to listen to God revealing the rock of Truth to us through His Word, the Bible, and through the invincible life of Jesus Christ. To experience truth’s life-transforming power is to be changed by it.

…or is it just easier to believe the Big Lie?…